MANHATTAN — Nino Williams has never played major minutes at Kansas State. Odds are he never will.
The 6-foot-5 junior forward from St. Louis has enough size and skill to be a mismatch in small doses, but not enough height or strength to go toe-to-toe with 7-footers for an entire game. He averages 13.5 minutes.
As a former four-star recruit, and the highest-rated member of his recruiting class, you might expect Williams to yearn for more than the complementary role he has been assigned. But that is not the case. Not only has he accepted his duties as K-State’s sixth man, he has embraced them.
“It’s not hard for me, because sometimes in eight minutes you can score nine points and you can feel good about it,” Williams said. “Or you can play 33 minutes and score three points. It doesn’t really matter. The minutes you get should be the minutes you earn and you should take advantage of them. If you play three minutes or if you play 33 minutes, you should play hard the whole time.”
That attitude is a major reason why Williams has become a difference-maker for the Wildcats. After a slow start — he averaged four points and 2.7 rebounds in his first 12 games — he now finds himself on the court at the end of games. K-State coach Bruce Weber trusts him, even in crunch time. Why not? He helped close out victories over Oklahoma State and Oklahoma with flawless shooting from the free-throw line.
Williams has done more than that, though. In his past five games, he is averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds, and that includes a stinker at TCU in which he didn’t score. In his past 75 minutes, he has scored 46 points and snared 18 rebounds.
“He gives us that great boost that we need,” senior guard Will Spradling said. “He is almost a run stopper by himself, just with his energy and how he attacks every ball and every rebound. He really gets after it.”
There are several reasons for the midseason turnaround. Bronchitis slowed Williams throughout November, and it took him until late December to return to full strength. K-State also opened the year in turmoil by losing three of its first five games. It took the Wildcats a while to establish an effective rotation.
Still, the main catalyst for Williams has been his team-first mindset.
Weber summed that up perfectly earlier this season when he described Williams as the type of player that doesn’t get many minutes, “But woo! Does he do a lot with them.
“When we put him in there, he gives us energy on defense and he gives us offensive rebounds,” Weber said. “Maybe we aren’t pretty offensively, but we are scoring. He is just doing what he can do. That is the most important thing.”
Weber is beginning to find new ways to get him on the court. Williams opened the season purely as Shane Southwell’s backup, but he also fills in for Thomas Gipson. And by making 70.3 percent of his free throws he has become one of the team’s most reliable foul shooters.
If he continues to play well, and he can learn to avoid fouls, his role will increase. There have been moments of brilliance from Williams before — he had 17 points and six rebounds against Oklahoma State last year — so there is no guarantee he can maintain his current form. But he is optimistic he is only going to get better.
No matter how many minutes he plays.
“I’m just a lot more consistent now,” Williams said. “I played good last year, but I wasn’t consistent. I would have a good game and then turn around and play an OK game and then not even do anything at all. I am just trying to be consistent and to stay focused. I want to be an everyday guy and not come out of my element and try to do things I know I can’t do.”